Will the Bishops Take On the Alt-Right’s Bigotry?

In response to a recent white nationalist conference in Washington DC, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum offered an important reminder and request:

The Holocaust did not begin with killing; it began with words. The Museum calls on all American citizens, our religious and civic leaders, and the leadership of all branches of the government to confront racist thinking and divisive hateful speech.

Will our Catholic bishops and leaders step up to the plate and confront the rising power and vile bigotry of white nationalists and the entire alt-right movement?

This is the type of rhetoric that sparked this response:

According to press reports, Richard Spencer, the leader of the National Policy Institute – a white nationalist think tank – that sponsored the conference, made several direct and indirect references to Jews and other minorities, often alluding to Nazism. He spoke in German to quote Nazi propaganda and refer to the mainstream media. He implied that the media was protecting Jewish interests and said, “One wonders if these people are people at all?” He said that America belongs to white people. His statement that white people face a choice of “conquer or die” closely echoes Adolf Hitler’s view of Jews and that history is a racial struggle for survival.

With the president-elect’s closest adviser, Steve Bannon, playing a key role in strengthening the alt-right, even calling his publication “the platform of the alt-right,” all Catholics must step up to the Holocaust’s Museum’s call and defend our values. Many Catholics were complicit in the Holocaust, the rise of fascist movements, and other mass atrocities. Let’s learn from history and take a stand against this evil, before another step is taken down the slippery slope.

Trump’s Pro-life Plan Includes Millions More Abortions

I support legal protection for the lives of unborn children. A comprehensive, whole life approach to abortion and the defense of human life should include such a commitment. The strategy of electing candidates who promise to appoint or confirm strict constructionist conservative Supreme Court justices is deeply flawed in that regard. Donald Trump confirmed this fact last week:

Lesley Stahl: During the campaign, you said that you would appoint justices who were against abortion rights. Will you appoint– are you looking to appoint a justice who wants to overturn Roe v. Wade?

Donald Trump: So look, here’s what’s going to happen– I’m going to– I’m pro-life. The judges will be pro-life. They’ll be very—

Lesley Stahl: But what about overturning this law–

Donald Trump: Well, there are a couple of things. They’ll be pro-life, they’ll be– in terms of the whole gun situation, we know the Second Amendment and everybody’s talking about the Second Amendment and they’re trying to dice it up and change it, they’re going to be very pro-Second Amendment. But having to do with abortion if it ever were overturned, it would go back to the states. So it would go back to the states and–

 Lesley Stahl: Yeah, but then some women won’t be able to get an abortion?

 Donald Trump: No, it’ll go back to the states.

Lesley Stahl: By state—no some —

 Donald Trump: Yeah.

 Donald Trump: Yeah, well, they’ll perhaps have to go, they’ll have to go to another state.

 Lesley Stahl: And that’s OK?

Donald Trump: Well, we’ll see what happens. It’s got a long way to go, just so you understand. That has a long, long way to go.

Conservative justices will return abortion to the states; it will remain legal in big states like New York and California; inadequate support for pregnant women and young families will leave many women feeling like they must abort their children; and millions will die. This is their best case scenario. Is it not clear that this plan is flawed?

To make matters worse, it is quite possible that the Court could return to Lochner era activism (when minimum wage, child labor, and similar laws were struck down on preposterous grounds) and overturn quite obviously constitutional laws in order to pursue a radical right-wing agenda. The foolishness of the pro-life movement’s subservience to Republican interests will be on full display. And again, this is only if Trump delivers on his promises to the pro-life community.

How to Respond to Trump? Fight for Democracy

Debates are swirling about what the appropriate response is to the election of the willfully ignorant, sexual assaulting, fascist coddling president-elect. The two most compelling arguments I’ve seen argue that our first responsibility is to fight for our democracy and resist reactionary attacks on our institutions and most cherished values.

In the Washington Post, I argued that this election was about our identity as a people and warned:

This election could usher in a new Republican Party that increasingly relies on the ugliest forms of populism and nationalism. It could even redefine the United States as a nation by taking the country down the road of illiberal democracy or even authoritarianism. This isn’t just alarming for Americans who are committed to democracy, civil liberties and the rule of law; it’s also critical moment for the world.

With the selection of the alt-right bigot Steve Bannon as chief strategist to the president, the threat to American democracy and our fundamental rights is clear (not to mention what people in Syria, Afghanistan, Central America, and elsewhere may be facing with an American president who does not believe in supporting freedom, democracy, and human rights).

Jonathan Chait has offered an excellent response to those thinking of simply fleeing: Forget Canada. Stay and Fight for American Democracy.

Never in my lifetime has the United States seen a period of darkness like the one that lies ahead of us. But we have seen periods of darkness before — segregation, McCarthyism, the internment of the Japanese, the Civil War, slavery. The American story is fitful progress punctuated by frequent reversals, some of which appeared at the time like they would last forever. None of them did.

The Trump years will be a horror. When I set out to write my long story in the magazine about Trumpism and the future of the Republican Party, I originally intended to focus on the immediate possibilities that lay before the Republican Party if it could capture full control of Washington. As this scenario grew less likely, I gave it less emphasis, but it is there. The Republicans will pass massive regressive tax cuts; they will take access to medical care from the poor and sick; they will deregulate the financial industry and fossil-fuel emitters.

And that is just the beginning, the best-case scenario. Trump is an impulsive, egotistical bully, intolerant of criticism and dissent and drawn to the ruthless application of power. Many liberals have been warning that American democracy is far weaker than we believed, and this was before any of us imagined a monster like Trump commanding the Executive branch. Trump will shake the Republic to its foundations. And the Republicans will shake it with him. If there is a central point I tried to drive home, it is that Trumpism grows out of a decades-long trend toward authoritarianism as the dominant tendency of Republican politics. I don’t know what American government will look like after four years of Trump — or if it will only last four years, or even if it will only last eight….

The depths of a Trump presidency defy our imagination. It is safe to assume it will not be popular. Trump and his party will probably respond with vicious anti-democratic measures. But fighting for democracy is part of America’s heritage, from abolitionists to suffragettes to the progressive reformers. Maybe you thought that fight was confined to history. It will go on.

In the Washington Post, Leon Wieseltier writes:

There is no economic analysis that can extenuate bigotry. The scapegoating of otherness by miserable people cannot be justified by their misery. Resentment, even when it has a basis in experience, is one of the ugliest political emotions, and it has been the source of horrors. Trump’s road to power was manifestly a foul road, even if it was supported by millions of people. Wisdom is never to be found in numbers. Trump’s success vouches only for his strategy. It says nothing about his probity or his decency. Those Americans who are ashamed that we have elected as our president a man bursting with prejudices and lies are right. Their shame makes America great again….

Having employed divisiveness as his primary instrument, the president-elect now implores us to put an end to our divisions. In the name of post-electoral comity, we are supposed to forget what we know. At this moment, therefore, it is important to affirm the reality, and the inevitability, and even the nobility, of some of our divisions….

The demons that have haunted our society for decades and even centuries, the vile illiberalism that currently disgraces other governments in the West, will now inhabit the White House. Difficult times are giving way to dark times, and dark times require a special lucidity and a special vigilance and a special ferocity about principle. We must not lose our faith in moral progress and in social progress, but we must remember that moral progress and social progress are not linear and unimpeded and inevitable. There will always be reversals and setbacks, because change rattles the world that preceded it. If you demand justice, prepare for instability, and for the exploitation of instability by political reactionaries who weaken the wounded with nostalgia and fantasies of exclusiveness. The struggle for reform is often succeeded by the struggle to repeal reform. Trumpism, insofar as it is coherently anything, is a great promise of repeal. If Trump succeeds in his repeal, then the fight for the repeal of the repeal must begin.

The proper response to Trump’s victory for the average American who believes in democracy and decency is not to flee. It is not to seek some artificial unity with racists, antisemites, and xenophobes, while our norms are dismembered, institutions are attacked, and values are assaulted. The proper response is to resist the imminent grave attacks on the common good. In such an environment, Christianity is either countercultural or counterfeit. Now is not the time for cowardly accommodation, but radical resistance to assaults on human dignity and free democracy. For those who have been lulled to sleep by the stalemates of divided government, now is the time to wake up and fight.

Left Behind: Working Class Families and Communities

Last night, Georgetown University hosted an event on the economic realities, political impact, and moral dimensions of the national neglect of working-class families and communities. The event featured Tim Carney, columnist for the Washington Examiner; Bill Fletcher, Jr., a senior scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies; author and political analyst Thomas Frank; Fr. Clete Kiley of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago and Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies; and moderator John Carr, ounder and director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University. Joe McCartin, a professor in the Department of History and the director of the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University, provided introductory remarks. Here are some highlights from the panel:

The Power of Redemption: He Joined a Gang at 10, But Now He’s Free

img_2568“It’s easier to be part of a gang than to go to school.” That’s what a young man, who I’ll call Daniel (for his safety), told me when I met him in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. The Egan Fellows and the rest of the CRS delegation had weaved our way up into the hills that surround the heart of the city, windows rolled down so that those looking out would be able to identify us and permit our safe passage. As we traveled on these winding dirt roads, I couldn’t help but wonder what jobs were available in this area, where businesses seemed largely absent and the homes were exceptionally modest. The beautiful view from the hills sharply contrasted with the poverty in the neighborhood.

Daniel joined a gang when he was 10 years old. He was in 4th grade. The gang gave him marijuana and cocaine to sell inside his school. He needed the money. Once he started dealing, he found that not only could he now provide for his basic needs, he could even help out his friends.

Looking back (and describing what he sees presently), he describes this type of recruitment as an epidemic. Gangs prey on vulnerable, naïve young boys who often don’t understand the dangerous path they have taken. When kids are playing on the soccer field, gang members stand in the corner or they approach them on the street, telling them how easy it is to earn a little money. Little by little they are drawn in, doing more tasks for the gang, and then they really start to move up in the gang “when they start killing people.”

Daniel continued to deal drugs in his school for a year and a half until his promotion. He became a “flag.” Flags keep lookout over a certain area, keeping tabs on everyone, always keeping an eye out for “strange people.” Daniel’s watch lasted until 4 AM. He kept an eye out for rivals, but also for the police, so that incriminating items could be hidden before a raid.

Some members of the police were on the gang’s payroll. They would call in advance of a raid so that they would have time to hide everything. Nevertheless, the raids often involved shootouts.

Daniel wasn’t there for one raid that turned violent. His 13-year-old friend was shot and killed. When he found out, he ran to see his bullet-riddled body. It was a devastating moment. But his first response was the desire for vengeance. Daniel doesn’t sugarcoat his state of mind at the time. He doesn’t pretend that he was more conflicted or struggling with reconciling his lifestyle and his values. He admits that he was immersed in a world of violence and the values that accompany it. Even with his close friend killed, he still felt “big and protected.”    Read More

The Death Penalty is Fundamentally Unjust

As the Church’s opposition to the death penalty grows stronger, a greater emphasis seems to be on the presumed inherent incompatibility of the death penalty with mercy toward the individual person facing execution, rather than its impact on justice or the common good. Depending on one’s theological views, this may be seen as a positive or unfortunate development. But the reality is that this debate should essentially be moot—the death penalty is fundamentally unjust. It undermines the common good, it cannot be fixed, and it has no place in modern society. As California voters get ready to address this issue, the LA Times has provided a succinct case for its abolition:

The chief reason to abolish the death penalty in California is that it is cruel and unusual punishment, both immoral and inhumane and out of step with “evolving standards of decency” in the United States. It has little deterrent effect, by most accounts, and is administered so capriciously that it makes a mockery of the concept of equal justice. Poor people and people of color are disproportionately put to death for crimes that bring other defendants merely a long prison sentence. Indeed, whether a murderer is ultimately executed often depends less on the gravity of his offense than on whether he committed it in a particular county or a particular state or was represented by a decent lawyer. The process is open to manipulation and mistakes, yet once the appeals process is complete, miscarriages of justice can never be corrected, for obvious reasons.

Even those who do not object to capital punishment on principle ought to support abolition because of the system’s inefficiency, exorbitant costs and long delays. Proponents of Proposition 66 say they can speed up the process and make the death penalty work, but there are serious doubts that their proposal would achieve the kind of fast-tracking they promise, and critics argue persuasively that the system might become even more expensive. And if it does succeed, it would likely require unacceptable compromises of basic constitutional rights, increasing the chance that innocent people might be put to death. In fact, about one in 10 of California death sentences eventually get overturned. There is too much at risk to speed up the process.

It is not needed to prevent crime. It hasn’t been shown to deter crime more than life in prison without the possibility of parole. It is arbitrary, capricious, and unfair. It reflects systemic injustices. And the specter of killing innocent people cannot be eliminated. Even for those who believe the death penalty can (in theory) be reconciled with love and solidarity for all, in practice, it is manifestly unjust and detrimental to human flourishing.   

Purchasing Recreational Drugs and Fueling Violence

Discussions of privilege are ubiquitous on the left these days, and the desire to make ethical purchases is common not only among “bourgeois bohemians” but a growing number of those who recognize a religious imperative to engage in ethical consumption. While scholars, activists, and everyday people try to figure out how to operate in the marketplace ethically and make it easier to do so, not enough attention has been given to the purchasing of recreational drugs that fuel violence and other grave evils. Perhaps because it is inherently immoral and chimerical to pursue happiness through recreationally altering one’s brain chemistry, the detrimental effect of drug use on social justice and the common good—particularly its impact on the poor and vulnerable—does not garner as much attention in religious circles as the incompatibility of drug use and human flourishing at a personal level. But for Catholics, the personal level is not the individual level—we are embedded in communities and our actions affect others, creating responsibilities toward these people. And for those who do want to “check their privilege” or to exercise the preferential option for the poor, this is a subject that can’t be ignored, as Mario Berlanga writes in a recent New York Times article:

Many of my friends and classmates here in the United States care about making the world a better place, and they try to make purchases that reflect their values. Some have become vegetarians to save animals or fight climate change. Others buy cruelty-free cosmetics, fair-trade coffee or conflict-free diamonds.

Yet I’ve noticed at parties and festivals that some of these same people pop Ecstasy or snort cocaine. They think this drug use is a victimless crime. It’s not. Follow the supply chain and you’ll find a trail of horrific violence.

In Mexico, the official death toll from the past decade’s drug trade stands at over 185,000, with many of the dead innocent bystanders. And these tallies don’t include the thousands of people who have disappeared, including four members of my family who were kidnapped and never seen again. We were deprived of our loved ones without explanation, without even their bodies to cry over….

The United States, with less than 5 percent of the world’s population, constitutes more than 30 percent of the global demand for illegal drugs, according to my calculations. Yes, there are addicts, but experts estimate that eight in 10 users — more than 20 million people in this country — take drugs recreationally….

If you think one person’s consumption is too small to make a difference, consider that $100 — what a recreational cocaine user might spend on a single weekend — buys the cartels 500 rounds of ammunition; $500 buys a new AR-15 rifle; $700 covers the monthly salary of one of their gunmen….

If you use illegal drugs, even just occasionally, please reconsider. Lives are at stake. Go for legal vices if you must. Even if you never use illegal drugs, you probably know people who do. Tell them about the trail of blood that led to their night of partying. If they had seen it firsthand, as I have, they wouldn’t buy those drugs.

We can shatter the misconception that recreational drug use is a victimless crime. We must put an end to the hypocrisy that allows people to make purchases based on their concerns about the environment, workers’ rights or animals — but not about killing people in Mexico.